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Who has access to your digital assets when you are gone?

Who gets your Twitter account? Can your Administrator/Executor log into your Facebook account and see your private messages to your friends? Who gets your iTunes Library? Shouldn't your estate plan address these questions? Can it?

Can you control where your digital assets go after death? It depends.

The fate of your digital property might depend on the policy of the company itself.

First of all, a lot is going to depend on the privacy policy or licensing policy of the company itself.

Privacy Policy

Facebook, for example allows anyone to  "memorialize" an account. and allows immediate family members to request a request a removal of an account . The bottom line is that per Facebook's terms - if they don't have your password, they're not getting in. Other social media sites, like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn have similar policies - they do not allow family members access to the username/password or otherwise let family members access the deceased person's account. With these sites, however, the only option for family members is to remove the account completely.

Licensing Policy 

Who owns your software or digital music collections after you die?

You might have heard the rumor back in 2012 that Bruce Willis was  suing Apple for the right to devise his iTunes collection. While the story was - according to Willis' wife - "not a true story" - it did have the effect of raising the public awareness that most of what we "own" in digital form - eBooks, Music, Software, and other subscriptions are actually not "owned" at all. Instead, almost all fo the digital content we own these days is provided under a license that terminates at the death of the licensee.

The fate of your digital property might depend on state law.

In Connecticut, for example, the law allows Administrators and Executors of an estate limited access to a person's email accounts. However, the law does not necessarily allow electronic access to these accounts. Instead, the law allows email service providers to choose between providing Personal Representatives of a Connecticut estate either "access to or copies" of the "electronic mail account" of the deceased person.

...or Federal Law

Even Connecticut law provides that "Nothing in this section shall be construed to require an electronic mail service provider to disclose any information in violation of any applicable federal law." Sec 45a-334a(c).  Federal Law prevents disclosure of digitally stored communications without the consent of the owner or a court order.

The fate of your digital property: what you do.

As part of your Connecticut Estate Plan, you should make decisions for how you want your accounts handled after you pass away. Some people might be comfortable sharing their login information with a trusted person, while others may not. As with any aspect of estate planning, the trick is identifying what you want have happen to your "stuff" before you die, and putting a plan down on paper for the proper handling of your assets - digital or otherwise. While there will be certain limitations on what you can accomplish in an Estate Plan, the best approach is to decide what you want to accomplish and contact a professional to discuss your options.

G&G Law, LLC is a Connecticut General Practice Law Firm with a focus on tax controversies, real estate transactions, business planning, and estate planning.

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